First UN Art to Reach the Summit of Everest: The Uniting Painting

On 26 May 2011, I celebrated my seventy-ninth birthday, and it seemed to me as if only two weeks had passed since I had turned sixteen years old.

But time has indeed flown by, measured by the more than eleven thousand political cartoons that I produced on a daily basis during those "two weeks."

I believe that the least important thing in a political cartoon is the drawing, the humour, and the paraphernalia around it. The real and only worthwhile ¬factor of each cartoon is the message that it delivers to the three hundred million bosses that I have accumulated throughout the years -- my regular readers. I send them my day-by-day graphic conclusions of the political, economic, and military interpretations of at times exciting, at times mundane, international events.

These "two weeks" were a period of strenuous and rich in-depth studies for me. I felt like a hunter on a daily mission to identify, then chase, my moving political target, cornering it, and carrying it on my back to my studios, where I would carve it up carefully. I would choose its better parts, spray some artisan olive oil, salt it with humour, and pepper the final result with some piquant graphics -- after jotting under my sketch a few words intended to channel my readers' concentration to my specific conclusion. Then I'd test the pencil sketch on four of my fellow editors -- the News, Editorial, and Features Editors had to fall in love with my newly-created cartoon; the fourth one, the Sports Editor, had to fail to understand it. By doing that, I would be fulfilling the instructions of my ideal recipe for preparing a tasty and brain-nourishing cartoon. Only then would I put it into the microwave for about two to four hours of pen-brush strokes, and finally put the meal on my readers' plates. Going through such a process so many times taught me how to find my way through the paths of contemporary history, and it led me to two bottom lines.

The first was that good wins, that democracy is the victor, that harmony is where good life flourishes, and that justice is a way of life guaranteeing longevity, both physically and politically. Evil, tyranny, dictatorship, and concentration camps only lead to hell.

The second, somewhat to my surprise, was that I couldn't wrap up in one cartoon all that was expressed in my first bottom line. Generally speaking, I can react fairly efficiently to any single or dual message in one political cartoon. I discovered that the beautiful cartoon -- the so-called "smart bomb of the media" -- is very effective only as a tactical tool that can handle one target at a time.

I badly needed a strategic graphic device -- one that I would have to invent from scratch. After sixty-three years of political cartoons, I found they could reach high, but not high enough. I simply had to go back to the drawing board to deliver, in a coherent way, this revelation of the pragmatic victories of good over evil.

While the political cartoon may be custom made for The New York Times "Week in Review" section, the message that I wanted to deliver had to be totally engulfing and swiftly understood by everyone. I wanted to find a tool that would serve as a symbol, as a reminder, as a uniform, and as a badge of goodness that would be achieved by the pleasant aesthetics of goodwill graphics. At the same time, it had to be a real thing, a collectible item, a presentation, and it had to have a common language that could be understood by all people around the world.

Back in 1968, as soon as my wife Tamar and I got hold of our first home in America, I decided to create some canvases that carried with them a graphic idea -- a motif leaping from one canvas to the other. The canvases were placed on the ceiling one after the other, and then down the wall. The art, though, had a problem once it reached the floor and understood that "it" could not continue as a canvas on the floor. That was a dramatic game changer: the art itself, in order to survive, had to change its physical personality while maintaining the same appearance it had on the ceiling and on the wall. Thus, our motif found itself continuing in a form of squares and rectangles (emulating canvases) made in the exact same colours that appeared on its "real" canvases. Once it came to the exit door, the art became even more curious. It simply had to see what was happening outside. Discovering that it could change its materials like a chameleon, and since it had to survive as a carpet outdoors, exposed to snow, sleet, ice, and rain, it decided that it had to become a mosaic, in essence, a new kind of canvas. In brief, it could continue forever through any kind of natural or artificial material. Anything could become its canvas. It would have a dramatic unification quality by allowing an ongoing continuous artistic visibility, guaranteeing a sense of "relaxing" and offering familiarity, and thus comfort, to anyone who saw it and knew what it presented. Viewers who saw the art on the wall and on the carpet understood that it continued into the backyard with exactly the same positive message, creating a common denominator of promising goodwill from one backyard to the next, from one city to the next, and from one continent to the next.

The Uniting Painting is currently placed at the demilitarized zone between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It is on a communications satellite roaming in space. And on 19 May 2011 it was physically exhibited on the peak of Mount Everest (see pictures), establishing its presence on the highest place on earth. It is also in two places in New York, including at the United Nations. During the renovation project of the UN Secretariat building in New York, however, the art is being displayed only in part there. Negotiations are also ongoing on the possibility of establishing the art project on the lowest spot on earth, just north of the Dead Sea, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist at the Jordan River.

Plans for the Uniting Painting are moving ahead at the state level. Some leaders see in the art an elegant way to express political and social aspirations. By embracing it as contemporary fine art, it allows them to non-confrontationally express liberalism and social friendship. Nepal is a country of great political differences that changed, not too long ago, from a monarchy to democracy. Though tensions remain high, it seems that one thing everyone agrees on is that art works well as a uniting national factor. "And the fact that it will enhance tourism, create new jobs, and put our country on the map as an important fine art centre of Asia, definitely encourages every political party to support this idea and thus elevates our prestige both as a nation and as individual Nepalese people," said Nepal's President, the Honourable Dr. Ram Baram Yadav, on 25 April 2011, when he delivered the three Uniting Painting canvases to Nepal's top Sherpas. They immediately began carrying them to the peak of Mount Everest, the country's biggest and most revered treasure. They reached the mountain top with the heavy canvases on 19 May, just before noon, and presented my art on the highest summit.